December 10, 2012 By adminCDS
Squeezebox Radio : a designers’ review
As a designer I cant help but turn a critical eye to the products, services and experiences that I encounter on a day to day basis. Indeed, we all provide mini reviews when we either recommend, or more often criticise a product to a friend, and these days more publicly through websites, blogs and social networks. However, as a designer maybe I have a more qualified eye to look at the details of a product, and understand what it has taken to get that idea from sketch to a product that has been manufactured, shipped and sold to me at some kind of outlet. With that in mind, I will be reviewing products from a designers perspective and putting my thoughts down here, I hope you find it informative and maybe a little entertaining… at least enough to keep reading.
The first product I’d like to review is my Squeezebox Radio by Logitech. This product is great! Enough said.
Well, OK, maybe not enough said, I should quantify why I think it’s such a nice piece of design. At first glance I imagine a lot of design pundits would be reasonably underwhelmed by the aesthetic form of the product, there’s no fancy use of wood, ceramic or metal, few iPhone-esqe design queues to make you want to caress the glossy surfaces. But it is tidy, well made and well laid out. Form follows function perhaps, although this same package could be wrapped in any number of forms and proportions. The truth is it’s just about the right shape, size and proportion for what it is: a portable internet radio. Something that is at home in the kitchen, the bedroom, an office or a living room for that matter.
But it’s in the details that you start to notice that a lot of time, energy and thought have gone into making this product.
It is designed to run on Logitechs’ Squeezebox network music system, formerly known as Squeezenetwork, which allows you to have a central music server in the form of a computer containing your MP3 library, which will then stream the music to any Squeezebox player. I’ve been using this for years now, and it’s great; like having a jukebox for your home (or office), which you can access through a web browser to queue up songs, create playlists etc. But unlike iTunes, for example, anyone on the network can access the library and the playlist and share the fun of queuing the music. In real time.
The interface on the Squeezebox radio is primarily a large rotary dial that you push to accept whatever’s highlighted on the screen, much in the same manner as the original iPod. This is fine for the majority of settings and selections, but can get cumbersome when entering long names for example (though even this part of the interface works pretty well). What’s nice is that there are free iPod, iPhone, iPad and Android applications that become an awesome remote control for the device, and any other Squeezebox connected devices in your home. Suddenly you have a fantastic connected music system with hardly any investment (the player can be your existing PC for example).
The volume control is a smaller dial, which does what you expect. But, as I said, it’s the little details that make the difference : push the volume dial and the device mutes. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but that would have added extra cost to the components, as well as time to develop the functionality. It’s a little bit of surprise and delight. Along the same lines is the auto-dimming screen which reacts to the light in the room. This means that if you have the radio on your bedside table you’re not kept awake by the LED once you’ve switched off the lights. Switch them on and the screen gently fades back into view. This is a nice piece of user consideration that would have also meant extra components (the light sensor) and extra development time to get right. Other buttons include six memory buttons for online radio stations (for me BBC Radio 4 and BBC6 Music), and the expected play/pause, fast-forward and rewind.
The build and manufacturing quality are all really good, featuring tight split-lines, a high gloss finish, soft touch paint on the dials, and the nice use of fabric for the speaker cover. While it doesn’t have the now ubiquitous iPhone dock, it does have an aux input, which is perhaps more useful now Apple have changed all their connectors. And means you can use other devices too of course. And it has a headphone out so you can listen in private or plug it into a bigger sound system if you wish.
Since the Squeezenetwork operating system has been open source for years, there are a number of great plugins that you can add. My favourite is Spotify since with the premium license I can listen to pretty much anything anywhere, so long as I have a network connection. You can also add LastFM (but you have to pay them), BBC, TuneIn Radio and many others, so you dont even need a library of MP3s to get it working.
OK, so obviously I like this product! But there are one or two bug bears, the main one being that it doesn’t automatically switch between known networks. This means that if you move from one network to another, for example between your home and office, you have to manually re-establish the network connection. Thankfully, it does remember WiFi keys otherwise it would be a real pain to have to input those through the jog wheel each time! This is true when connecting through ethernet cable too, which I think is a bit of an oversight. It’s also a shame that it doesn’t come bundled with a rechargeable battery, although there is space for one that you can buy separately.
So all in all I would say that the Logitec Squeezebox Radio is a well designed, well thought out product that, while not cheap, is very competitive is the growing Internet radio market.